The Disney Difference: Lessons learned from Wreck-It Ralph

Earlier this month, I finally watched Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s story about the bad guy in the video game that doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. He’s tired of constantly getting knocked to the mud in every game and left to live in the dump, while everyone else gets to have cake and live in the penthouse. When he discovers a way to become better than what he’s always been, he sets out to prove to everyone that the bad guy doesn’t doesn’t always have to be bad! What a great movie. But it was more. Watching the special features, I was reminded about just how Disney is different than all the rest, and how they’ve continued to be so different and popular for so long. The Disney Difference is in the details.

These are the details that you missed when watching the movie or visiting the park or reading the book or going on the ride, that detail was planned by somebody. That detail was painstakingly applied with hours and money and sweat and work, and it was done with the knowledge that not everyone will notice this detail or all the work that went into it, but someone will. And to Disney, that’s enough. To them, that’s important. And to the rest of the world, that’s what makes the Disney Difference.

The Disney Difference in Wreck-It Ralph:

They spent about 2 years or more working on this movie. I’d like to say that’s a rare thing for them, but of course it isn’t. Each and every movie that comes through Disney takes weeks and months and years of preparation, building, redoing, re-redoing and detailing. One kind of important detail about this movie: It almost wasn’t about the bad guy. The original story was just going to be based on the main character of the game, some version of what we now know as Fix-It Felix Jr. They worked on ideas, drew sketches, and actually began working on animations for this idea and someone says, “Hey, why don’t we make this about the bad guy?” Almost any other studio might’ve said, “Nah, we’ve already put all this time and effort and money into it. Let’s keep it going.” But not Disney. They saw an opportunity and a detail that would make a difference to someone. They pounced and got this great movie out of it.

They made Sugar Rush in real life. Here’s proof:

Click for larger view.That part of the movie that’s based in a world where it looks like the witch from Hansel and Gretel threw up on Candy Land? Yeah, that got made. For real. With actual candy. Is it any wonder that the animation turned out so cool and lifelike? Because at some point, it likely was lifelike.

The 8-bit world purposefully simplified the animation to account for the rigid, blocky movements. This is one of my favorite findings. Because the game the movie is primarily centered around is an old-school 8-bit Donkey Kong type game, the folks at Disney went to their animators and said, “Hey, we know you guys are awesome at what you do. Now we’re going to ask you to not be quite so awesome. They didn’t make the steps or arm movements of everyone from Fix-It Felix Jr. so fluid, in order to bring in the magic of an 8-bit world. In this way, not being awesome turned out to be even more awesome. Make sense?

The Disney Difference is a habit, not an accident.

It’s important to understand that the Disney Difference isn’t happenstance and people don’t stumble upon ways to make things better (well, not usually). They don’t even hire a special group of folks to comb through everything and look for improvements to be made. They handle it the right way: with every employee. All the employees are thoroughly versed in the Disney core values and the overall goal of making each day magical for each guest. They are empowered to do so, and in turn, have become a premiere destination to kids and adults alike for decades.

It’s not just the story you tell, it’s the way you tell it.

Not a lot of folks know about this, but there are a series of tunnels going underneath Disney World. These “Utilidors”, as they are called, exist for the whole purpose of telling the story the right way. One day, Walt Disney saw a Frontierland Cowboy walking through Tomorrowland. He immediately sensed that this wasn’t right – if a child saw this, it would ruin the magic of the experience for them. As a result, they built this series of tunnels (which are not really underground, mind you) to allow Cast Members to get from place to place and to their cars without being seen by the Guests. Other services, such as trash pickup, vendor deliveries and utilities are also hidden in these Utilidors, never seen by the typical Guest.

These amazing stories that make up the Disney Difference can happen for you as well, but they won’t until you and everyone on your team makes it a point to constantly keep an eye out for a way to make something better. I’ll cover how to make this happen in another post coming up soon!